Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)

The pastor starts his sermon off with a declaration of the supremacy of Christ. Jesus is God’s final revelation to us; he is superior to the angels; the creator and sustainer of the universe; he provided purification for sin; and he is God. There is probably no stronger expression of Christology in the Scriptures than this one.

​ In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4 NIV

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Jesus: the Final Revelation

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son

Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV

The pastor starts off by describing two different ways that God has spoken to his people. The following chart will help to contrast these two ways.

When God SpokeTo Whom He SpokeHow He Spoke
In the pastOur ancestorsBy the prophets
In these last daysTo usBy his Son

In the past, under the old covenant, God used the prophets to speak to our ancestors. We have the revelation of the prophets in what we call the Old Testament. The prophet’s revelation was good, but it was incomplete. What God was doing could not be fully understood until after Jesus had come.

In contrast to the revelation of the past, now, in these last days, we have a fuller revelation. We are in the last days spoken of by the prophets. And God has spoken to us by his Son. He has spoken to us through what he did, especially his death and resurrection, and through what he taught.

Five times in Mathew 5 Jesus uses the formula “you have head it said; but I say to you.” This is a reflection of what the pastor is saying in his opening statement. Jesus takes the revelation given by the prophets to a new and deeper level. This will be significant throughout the sermon as the pastor demonstrates how the Old Testament practices were at heart a looking forward to the revelation in Jesus.

These Last Days

It is common to think of the last days as something that is still in the future. And there is a sense in which that is true. But for the author of Hebrews, the last days started with Jesus. All of the kingdom promises made in the Old Testament find fulfillment in Jesus. He inaugurated the kingdom of God, and he is ruling over it today.

Eight Statements About the Supremacy of Christ

The author has already identified one element of the supremacy of Christ. His revelation is greater than that of the prophets. In the following two and a half verses he will rapidly give us eight more statements to demonstrate the supremacy of Christ.

Heir of All Things

whom he appointed heir of all things,

Hebrews 1:2b NIV

God appointed Jesus to be the heir of all things. On the surface this seems like a strange statement. We typically understand inheritance to be something that takes place when a person dies and their assets are distributed to specified individuals or organizations. But that is not what is happening here.

God appointed Christ as heir. Appointing reflects an assignment to a position. Jesus did not become heir through the death of his Father. Rather his Father appointed him to that position.

What is Jesus the heir of? All things! That would seem to include all things in the physical and spiritual realm, exempting God himself. The next phrase indicates that Jesus made the universe. And it is that universe, and all it contains, that is assigned to Jesus.

There are also many promises made in the Old Testament to Israel. Promises concerning land, kingship, and dominion. Jesus, as the heir of all things, would seem also to be the fulfillment of those promises. And that is reflected in Jesus statement in Matthew 5:17 that he had come to fulfill the law and the prophets.

When was Jesus appointed to become the heir? The exact moment is difficult to determine. But it would seem like it is centered about his sacrificial death and resurrection. The author will spend a significant portion of his sermon dealing with the significance of the crucifixion. That event is his point of victory over Satan, and his ascension to the throne over the kingdom of God.

Creator of All Things

and through whom also he made the universe.

Hebrews 1:2c NIV

We acknowledge God as our creator. But here, as in John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-17, we find the preincarnate Jesus identified as the agent of creation. It is dangerous to draw distinct lines between the activities of the three persons of the triune God. What one person does, they each are involved with. But the author here, as does John and Paul, identifies Jesus as the agent of creation.

In the beginning, Jesus made all things. And at his crucifixion he became the heir of those things. Jesus is the central figure in all of history, from its beginning, to its ultimate climax in the installation of Christ as king. He made it all. And it is all his.

The Radiance of God’s Glory

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory

Hebrews 1:3a NIV

Radiance! This Greek word can either refer to reflection or radiance. The difference between the two is seen in the moon and the sun. The sun radiates light while the moon reflects it. There are arguments made from both definitions. Either Christ reflects the glory of God. Or he is the radiance of God’s glory. Either one is possible. And, in the end, both really say the same thing. When we see Jesus, we see God’s glory.

But what is God’s glory? David L. Allen in “The New American Commentary” on Hebrews defines the glory of God as “the divine nature in either its invisibility or its perceptible manifestation; glory is the divine ‘mode of being.'” Kenneth S. Wuest in his “Word Studies in the Greek New Testament” defines glory, as used here, as ‘the expression of the divine attributes collectively.”

In other words, God’s glory is who he is; his nature and attributes. And the author here expresses that Jesus is the reflection of that nature. Paul, in Colossians 2:9, echo’s this when he says that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Jesus is the glory of God.

Exact Representation of God’s Being

and the exact representation of his being,

Hebrews 1:3b NIV

In addition, Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. “Exact representation” is a Greek word that means impress, reproduction, or representation. Every feature of the original is reproduced in the “exact representation.”

“Of his being” is another Greek word meaning substantial nature, essence, actual being, or reality. So here it refers to the essence of God, who he is. What God is, the Son is also. While they are two persons, they have the same essence.

Sustainer of All Things

sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Hebrews 1:3c NIV

In addition to being the agent of creation, Jesus is also the sustainer of that creation. This sustaining carries the sense of both sustaining and guiding. Jesus upholds the creation and guides it along to his intended purpose. Colossians 1:17 echo’s this when Paul says that “in him [Christ] all things hold together.”

And he sustains it by his powerful word. Word, as used here, is rhēma rather than the logos of the first chapter of John. But the words are very similar in meaning. While Genesis has God speaking creation into existence, and John has the Logos creating all that is, the author of Hebrews has Jesus sustaining the creation by his word. All reflect the same idea.

God’s word is powerful. He speaks and is obeyed. Even by the creation itself.

Provided Purification for Sins

After he had provided purification for sins,

Hebrews 1:3d NIV

A big theme for the author is the high priesthood of Jesus. Jesus is a superior priest to the Levitical priesthood. And Jesus is also a superior sacrifice to the lambs and bulls offered under the Old Testament law.

Purification for sins involves the removal of sin, the provision of forgiveness, and cleansing of the one being purified. The author of Hebrews will elaborate on each of these in chapter 9. But for now he identifies this as a task that Jesus has accomplished.

Seated At God’s Right Hand

he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Hebrews 1:3e NIV

After Jesus provided purification for sin by his sacrificial death on the cross, he was enthroned at the right hand of God. The right hand is the place of honor. That Jesus is sitting there is another indication of his superiority over the created order.

Another theme that the author develops at length is God’s rest. And this seems to reflect that. Jesus, after he had accomplished his work, sits down. He enters into his rest. But he is not doing nothing. As he sits at the right hand of God, he rules over his church and he advocates for us before the Father.

Superior to the Angels

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Hebrews 1:4 NIV

In some ways this verse is a companion with the first verse of this passage. Jesus is superior to the message of the prophets. And he is superior to the angels as well. This idea of superiority to the angels will be developed further in the rest of this first chapter of Hebrews.

But there are two questions this verse raises. It says that Jesus became superior to the angels. This would imply that there was a time when he was not. But in Hebrews 2:9 we find that Jesus was made lower than the angels for a short time. This would be during his incarnation, while he functioned as a human in the physical realm. But in his pre-incarnate state, as well as now, he is vastly superior to the angels.

The other question concerns the name that he has inherited. There are a number of possibilities that have been proposed for what this name is. But ‘Son’ seems to fit best in the context. He is called Son five times in this first chapter. And never called anything else.

But has he not always been Son? Yes he has. But in his providing purification for sins, his name took on new significance. Now, in addition to creator, he is redeemer.

Hebrews Study Post List

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

If you have found value in this post, please consider subscribing to A Clay Jar so that you don’t miss any other posts. 

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Exit mobile version